27 March 2018

Best Game is the Best Gift

Round twelve of the Candidates Tournament in Berlin. Report by Vladimir Barsky

In round twelve the Russian Sergey Karjakin defeated the sole leader Fabiano Caruana (USA) to catch up with him in the tournament standings. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, coming No.2 into this round, went down as White to the Chinese Ding Liren, upon which the Azeri grandmaster was caught up by both his offender and the Russian Alexander Grischuk. It cannot be tighter in the top half of the table with two rounds to go...

Sergey Karjakin, Anastasia Karlovich and Fabiano Caruana

"But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first." After round six the 2016 world vice-champion Sergey Karjakin was in the cellar, and the subsequent six rounds have propelled him into the first line of the tournament table! In round 12 he needed to pull off a must-win against the leader, and he has coped with the task brilliantly as a result of a very bright and high-quality game. Here's what Sergey has shared with the reporters:

– Today’s game, very difficult and sharp, was undoubtedly my best in the tournament. I sacrificed the exchange for the initiative, and Caruana underestimated this idea. I am proud of this game!

– Today is your wife’s birthday. No there is no more raking your brain about the gift, isn’t it?

– I made her a small gift by sending flowers, but this is nothing out of the ordinary, of course. Today's victory of mine is probably the best gift!

– To what degree this defeat is going to affect the future play of Caruana? Is it likely to unsettle him?

– It’s hard to tell. For example, two years ago in Moscow I was in the lead from the very beginning of the tournament, but I went down to Anand towards the finish. And the next day I won again - I felt that I had to pull myself together. Whether Fabiano can pull himself together is a question to him. So far, everything is in his hands, as well as in mine. There remain two decisive rounds; let's see whose nerves are stronger.

– Have you calculated who has better tiebreakers with equal number of points?

– I matters no longer because I have just won. Besides, we have two more games ahead of us.

– Can you be helped in the last round by Grischuk, playing White against Caruana?

– Of course, Alexander is enough motivated by being in contention for first place. Anyway, I wish the Russians nothing but victory: should I fail, I hope Grischuk will pull it off. However, I will do my best to win!

– Are you surprised by today's defeat of Mamedyarov's?

– Yes, he should not have lost as White. But, apparently, he was too eager to win and ended up stretching it too far.

Karjakin – Caruana

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. Nc3 Nxc3 6. dxc3 Nc6 7. Be3 Be7 8. Qd2 Be6 9. 0-0-0 Qd7 10. a3

– How did you manage to have some fight brewing in the Petroff Defense?

– I played a rather rare 10.а3 in the opening. This move has been employed by Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Fabiano’s second; so, this move came as no surprise to him.


I cannot speak for my opponent, however, but I suspect that he blundered the order of moves, opting for 10…h6 in lieu of a more natural 10…a6. Various luring opportunities immediately presented themselves for White, 11.Nd4 being by far not the only one. The trades on d4 give my a slightly better position, the only question being how much better. My Be2 and f4 plan seems a good one to me: White usually comes up with 13.с4, but I did not like Black’s 13…с5.

11. Nd4 Nxd4 12. Bxd4 Rg8 13. Be2 c5

Black’s problem is that 13…0-0-0 enables me to capture the pawn via 14.Bxa7. I think he should have opted for 13…а6 (in this case 14.с4 gains in power), or 13…Qa4, followed by long castling - this is what I was apprehensive of during the game.

14. Be3 d5 15. f4 0-0-0 16. Bf3 Bg4

In my opinion, the exchange sacrifice gives me an edge. In lieu of 16…Bg4 Caruana proposed 16…f5, but after 17.Qe2, followed by the doubling of rooks on the d-file, I have a plan of h3 and g4, for example. I do not claim that Black is losing, but his position is just lousy. This is why I was not at all surprised to see 16…Bg4 on the board since the decision to trade bishops is humanly understandable. When an opportunity of sacrificing the exchange presented itself to me, I did not hesitate long. This objectively interesting sacrifice puts Black up against huge practical challenges as he finds it hard to come up with any plan. The tournament situation dictated the necessity to sacrifice.

– Did Black downplay the risks he was running in that position?

– He did. I think the engine also displays something near equality...

– This is exactly the case.

– It is extremely unpleasant to be Black in this position.

17. Bxd5! Bxd1 18. Rxd1 Qc7 19. c4 Rge8 20. Qf2 b6 21. g4 Bf6 22. Kb1 Rd7 23. Rd3 g5

– It looks like an overly sharp move, doesn’t it?

– Black could have temporized here, but then I either carry out h4 and g5, or g5 without delay. Another plan for Black would be g6 и Bg7, but then h4, g5, followed by f5, if need arises. It’s hard to tell. I think I am better anyway.

24. Ka2 Ree7 25. Qf3 Kd8 26. Bd2 Kc8 27. Qf1


We made relatively logical moves, and after 27.Qf1, intending Rh3, we both no longer saw any satisfactory continuations for Black. It was easier to blunder for Black than for me.

– Is 27…Rd6 a blunder?

– I though he just blundered a pawn with this move, but Fabiano said that he found no defense against Rh3. Neither did I, honestly speaking. The engine is likely to come up with something, but finding defensive resources in time trouble is a hard nut to crack.

28. fxg5 Bxg5 29. Bxg5 hxg5 30. Qf5+ Rdd7 31. Qxg5 Qe5 32. Qh6 Kd8 33. g5 Qd6 34. Qh8+ Re8 35. Qh4 Qg6 36. Qg4 Re5 37. h4 Ke7 38. Rd2 b5

39. Bxf7 Qf5 40. Rxd7+ Kxd7 41. Qxf5+ Rxf5 42. g6 Ke7 43. cxb5 Rh5 44. c4 Rxh4 45. a4 Rg4 46. a5 Kd6 47. a6 Kc7 48. Kb3 Black resigns.

– You thanked Kasimdzhanov at the press conference for the 10.a3 idea seen in one of his games. Were you after mocking him slightly because of his being Caruana's second now?

– Let's just say this is an easy one! Rustam used to be assisting me for a year and a half, joining Fabiano afterwards. We have maintained good relationships, but I just had to do it! (laughing).

Alexander Grischuk – Levon Aronian

Alexander Grischuk could join the lead in case of a victory over Levon Aronian, poorly performing in Berlin. He had an opportunity, but on move 23 he did not dare to sacrifice a pawn to disrupt the coordination of Black pieces. However, even in this case it would still be a long way from winning the game, but White could have expected a slight advantage. Meanwhile, the game continuation allowed Black to "revive" his light-squared bishop, bringing massive liquidations and getting away from a slightly worse position.

Mamedyarov – Ding Liren

The Chinese grandmaster Ding Liren was asked how he managed to recover from the disappointment of the previous game against Alexander Grischuk. Ding admitted that sleep escaped him for most of the night, but he managed to fall asleep towards the morning and was feeling relatively refreshed before the game. At the same time he managed to surprise the opponent with his opening choice as he did not seem to have ever employed the improved the Tarrasch Defense before. However, it was a relative surprise because Shakhriyar had had to face this opening as White on many occasions, including once here in Berlin against Kramnik.

Ding safely bypassed the pitfalls and achieved a full-fledged game, but Shakh would not put up with it and started challenging his opponent with an unreasonably sharp play. He must have subconsciously believed that a draw was in his pocket (after all, the Chinese grandmaster drew all his previous encounters), but he should have avoided tempting fate. White was carried away with active central operations, overlooking a pawn break on the queenside. The second black queen showed up on the board shortly after, whereas White's sortie brought him only a couple checks. Mamedyarov recognized his defeat on move 43.

Mamedyarov – Ding Liren

28. g4?!

This is a reckless move, but, judging from Shakh’s statements at the press conference, he had long been itching to “rip a shirt on his chest”. He is obviously reasoned out of similar impulses by his second Aleksey Dreev, but not this time around...

28… a4 29. Bc2 Nd7 30. Bd3 Nxc5 31. Rxc5 b4 32. Bc4 Bd7 33. g5 hxg5 34. Qxg5 Be8 35. Qe7

Mamedyarov admitted that he overlooked the breakthrough idea. However, a good advice is beyond price for White already; in response to 35. Qe3 Black carries out same idea as in the game.

35... b3! 36. axb3 a3 37. b4 Ra8 38. d5 a2 39. dxe6 a1Q 40. exf7+ Bxf7 41. Bxf7+ Kh7 42. Qh4+ Qh6 43. Rh5 Qa7+! White resigns. Ding Liren put in modestly: “I am simply lucky that the check from a7 has come my way. Otherwise it would have been a draw.”

Vladimir Kramnik – Wesley So

Another vivid display was delivered by Vladimir Kramnik, who sacrificed a piece to Wesley So in exchange for two connected passers and was promoting them towards the queening squares. However, So was up to the occasion, giving back the extra material to built an unassailable defensive line. At a certain moment it looked as though Kramnik was again being carried away, but no - it has never left the realms of equality. A draw was agreed on move 42.

The tournament standings after round 12:

1-2. F. Caruana, S. Karjakin - 7 out of 12; 3-5. A. Grischuk, Ding Liren, S. Mamedyarov - 6.5;6. V. Kramnik - 5.5; 7. W. So - 5; 8. L. Aronian - 4.

Sunday, March 25, is a rest day.

Round 13 is scheduled on Monday, March 26, and features the following pairings: Caruana - Aronian, So - Karjakin, Mamedyarov - Grischuk, Ding Liren - Kramnik.

Box of Art Russe wine is the main prize of the wine-makers tournament titled Wine Chess Battle

Social life news. While round 12 was underway, presentation and tasting of the Art Russe wine took place in the VIP zone, hosted by the famous German sommelier Janek Schumann. And on Sunday (a rest day on the Candidates tournament), a chess tournament will take place in Kulhaus among four wine-making professionals, who are also great chess fans. The first prize is six bottles of the 2014 Art Russe wine in a special "chess" package (the box is complete with a chessboard and chessmen).

Pictures by Anastasiya Karlovich and Vladimir Barsky